The best dessert wine?

Whenever I hear the expression “dessert wine,” I can’t help from chortling. And what’s worse, whenever I hear the words “wine and chocolate” used together in conjunction with the word “tasting,” I literally can’t help myself from laughing out loud. And there’s a very precise reason for that.

Technically, most wines can’t be paired successfully with sweet dishes. Even when it comes to “dried-grape” wines — like Recioto, Vin Santo, or Passito — the sweetness in the given dish puts the sweetness of the wine out of whack.
All wine has sugar in it. Even the driest of brut nature wines has some residual sugar in it. And likewise, even a dry wine has at least 2 or 3 grams of residual sugar in it. When it comes to dried-grape and late-harvest wines, the wines can have very high levels of residual sugar. Recioto della Valpolicella, for example, can land at 150 grams per liter of wine or even more.
sparklingBut when you pair a wine like that with a chocolate-based dish, the sugar in the dessert creates imbalance in the wine. In other words, if you take a bite of rich chocolate cake and then take a sip of Recioto della Valpolicella, you’re not tasting the “complete” wine. That’s because the sugary flavor in your mouth will attenuate the balance between sugar, alcohol, and acidity in the wine.

So-called dessert wines are best paired with aged cheeses. And the more piquant the cheese, the better the pairing imho. And that’s where Moscato d’Asti comes into the picture (at least at my Thanksgiving table).

Because of its freshness and its robust aromatic character, Moscato d’Asti is one of the few wines that, in my experience, isn’t overwhelmed by desserts. Chocolate remains an impossible pairing and I don’t recommend pairing Moscato d’Asti with chocolate or chocolate-based desserts.
But pumpkin pie? It’s a fantastic pairing for Moscato d’Asti.

Similarly, pecan pie is great with Moscato d’Asti. Both are typical desserts served at my family’s holiday feast.
The richness of chocolate overwhelms everything (except for bitter American drip coffee, the best match in my view). But as long as you have some savory element in the dessert, Moscato d’Asti will work brilliantly. Pecan and pumpkin work especially well.
Last week I wrote about how I can’t remember a Thanksgiving without Moscato d’Asti. As I wish you all a happy Thanksgiving, I encourage you to pour some Moscato d’Asti at this year’s celebration.

Just be sure to leave some room for dessert!

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

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Jeremy Parzen
After obtaining his Ph.D. in Italian literature at U.C.L.A. in 1997, Jeremy Parzen moved to New York City where he shifted his focus to food and wine. By 1998, he was the chief wine writer for the English-language edition of La Cucina Italiana. In 2005, he published his annotated translation of Maestro Martino's 15th century cookery book, The Art of Cooking (University of California Press). In 2007, he launched his blog (named after the Venetian expression for two glasses of white wine). Since that time, he has published countless articles on Italian food and wine, including bylines for publications like Decanter and Wine and Spirits, which named him a "Master of Place" in 2017. Known for his humanist perspective onto the world of Italian enogastronomy, he works as wine and restaurant industry consultant from his home office in Houston, where he and his wife Tracie (a native Texan) are raising their two daughters. A former rock musician and songwriter, Jeremy continues to compose and record music with and for his family. He was honored to be named an Italian Association of Wine Merchants ambassador in 2018 for his "profound scholarship in the humanities, his great knowledge of winemaking, and his excellence in communications."


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